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Relaxed Wife, The

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Relaxed Wife, The


Published 1957


Remarkable, surreal industrial film promoting "Atarax," a tranquilizer, and asserting how "ataraxic medicines" can help us all to achieve the relaxed state we long for. Created by Coni Johnston, Mel London, Joseph Cole, Bert Spielvogel, Tracy Ward (a pseudonym for Virginia Bell) and by Rune Hagman, Delores Phox, Jeanne Sharp, Dick Brophy, M. Opelle, Herb Hagens.


Run time 13:27
Producer On Film, Inc.
Sponsor Roerig (J.B.) & Co., a division of Charles Pfizer & Co., Inc.
Audio/Visual Sd, C

Shotlist

Despite what we hear today from politicians playing the nostalgia card, the "peaceful" fifties weren't so stress-free. While documenting mid-century anxiety in excruciating detail, ephemeral films also show diverse responses to it: erasure, behavior modification, medication.

To those conditioned to think of the fifties as the era of narcotized housewives, The Relaxed Wife's title might be a bit misleading. It's not about calming an anxious housewife so she can face the daily grind without going mad. She's already relaxed (although we're without a clue as to how she got that way). It's her husband (played by an unnamed actor capable of truly amazing facial distortions) that's the one with the problem. As a person, he doesn't seem particularly out of the ordinary, and he certainly isn't a candidate for deep psychiatry. What he's up against, the film seems to say, is the stress and strain incurred by good behavior, conformity and being a parent and spouse. As the film progresses, in fact, it seems more and more like a subsurface view of the bright, "happy-go-spending" world of In the Suburbs (see The Uncharted Landscape disc).

This postwar, post-scarcity environment is wracked by traumas arising out of life at its most ordinary. And lurking in the bushes are pharmaceutical companies ready to medicate anxious citizens. Fifties popular magazines are filled with tips on anxiety management and stress reduction, and media cliches about "Miltown housewives," dependent on a famous tranquilizer.

The Relaxed Wife is densely packed with messages that harmonize with fifties pop-social critiques. There's a plug for self-absorption: "Let the world take care of its own worries. You'll help yourself most by concentrating on your own affairs," and a strong dismissal of perfectionism. Images of clenched fists straining against a rubber strap, signs reminding us to "think," "smile," and "work," sped-up telephone voices, and a feverish male running slalom through poles set against a blank white cyclorama remind us of familiar white-collar nightmares.

Narrated in rhyme (a common affectation in films of the time), the film reaches a peak of optimism and promise: "Today, medical science recognizes, that some folks aren't helped by relaxing exercises. In cases of difficult tension, and nervous apprehension, doctors are now prescribing an ataraxic medicine. It makes those who fear they're about to quit, feel like they're ready to begin, bidding their darkened spirits goodbye, for the calming peace of a cloudless sky. Of all the states throughout this nation, the happiest by far is the state of relaxation. There'll be fewer breakdowns and insomniacs, when more of us have learned to be relaxed. We'll be free to relish the joys of life, no longer tense over daily worries and strife."

Such calls for universal relaxation can't succeed without universal medication. This film was part of Pfizer's promotion campaign for the tranquilizer "Atarax" (hydroxyzine hydrochloride), named after "ataraxia," which, as the film notes, was the Greek word for relaxation. Introduced in 1956, Atarax was highly profitable for Pfizer.

Throughout the fifties and sixties, On Film, Inc. produced promoting national magazines to advertisers, films on interior and industrial design, and many films and television commercials sponsored by pharmaceutical industry. Their remarkable film In the Suburbs can be viewed on The Uncharted Landscape CD-ROM. The form in which The Relaxed Wife's credits appear intimates that the crew worked more collaboratively than hierarchically, that there was something different about this company's production process.


Ken Smith remarks: After you've watched a couple hundred nontheatrical films, you begin to appreciate the quirky ones. Using stylized, minimalist sets, occasionally surreal visuals and a narration that's spoken in rhyming couplets, this film follows a tense, rubber-faced young husband as his unruffled wife teaches him how to relax. It isn't until the film is almost over that we learn that "some folks aren't helped by relaxing exercises," and that Charles Pfizer & Co.'s "ataraxic medicine" may be just the ticket for such stubborn cases. "Of all the states throughout this nation, the happiest by far is the state of relaxation!" Watch for the scene where the young husband turns into a human pressure cooker.

frustration relaxation couples bedroom drugs sleep anxiety fly tranquilizers medication
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Reviews

Reviewer: splue - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - June 6, 2011
Subject: relaxed
vry relaxed
Reviewer: ERD. - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - February 12, 2011
Subject: Fun to watch
It was fun to watch this 1957 stylized but imaginative & funny film which cleverly promoted a tranquilizer. It was filmed at a time when the motion picture code required that the husband and wife be shown in separate beds. The actor who played the husband was excellent.
Reviewer: Tomino - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - February 12, 2011
Subject: ....
The source of all his stress is making the mistake of buying a separate bed for his wife.
Reviewer: doowopbob - favorite - September 25, 2010
Subject: ....Hello..?
All They Needed To Do Was Get Laid..Tension Gone...But The Result Could Be One Butt-Ugly Kid..!..Who Will Carry On The Tension..!....Rock Candy As A Drug Won't Work..!
Reviewer: polistra - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - June 28, 2009
Subject: Wow!
"Father Knows Best" as filmed by Salvador Dali.
Reviewer: Zirondelle - favoritefavoritefavorite - March 14, 2008
Subject: Loved it!
Loved the puffy ladyrobe, loved the wires suspending the bottle of atarax!
Reviewer: bread - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - October 7, 2006
Subject: Not stange enough!
I think this ad is nowhere near as stange as people make it out to be (I was hoping for something stanger!). Still, it's very enjoyable. Entertaining as a comedy.
Reviewer: autoguy - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - September 18, 2006
Subject: Pfizer Follies!
Are you seriously wacked out on drugs from Pfizer? Having wild hallucinations? Hearing wild comical music? Do you have the mouth of a fish? Well, those are not hallucinations at all. You are a test subject at the Pfiser labs! That mechanical torture device implanted in your skull is real, and yes, those arms attached to the lab table and desk were aquired from the last "lab rat" that they used before you! But all will be well soon. After a few heavy doses of Atarax, you won't give a rat's ass about a damned thing! How did you end up there? Well, your wife committed you of course. She had to do SOMETHING, and I don't blame her a bit. Be lucky they didn't give you a lobotomy!
Reviewer: GE_Pretzel - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - January 3, 2006
Subject: The product of creative minds
Even if you've viewed The Relaxed Wife at least more than once, it's difficult to provide a good description of the film's content to those who have not yet witnessed the utterly bizarre mishmash of humourous images and dialogue that it contains. Every single minute of the film presents viewers with a strange brand of comedy unparalleled by any of the bilge currently occupying network television. The credits are also fascinating to behold!
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